In the past decade, competitive gaming has experienced a meteoric rise in popular culture and its economic value. But before we dive into the latest developments in the esports world, let me paint a quick picture for you.
22 teams quarantined for 14 days. Month-long competition for a multimillion dollar prize. 3.8 million viewers worldwide. I’m talking of course about the 2020 League of Legends World Championship, just one of many massively popular esports events out there today.
This weekend marked the conclusion of one of the most significant events in the esports world. Sponsored by Riot Games, the fiercely competitive League of Legends championship is known for being held in an arena and drawing thousands of fans like any other major sporting event.
In fact, in recent years this League of Legends competition has drawn more viewers than the Super Bowl or NBA finals. 2020’s event looked a little bit different due to the pandemic, but nevertheless, its scope is indicative of the growth, market value, and excitement surrounding the esports industry.
It can be challenging to reconstruct your notion of an athlete to consider a gamer with his or her fingers wriggling across a controller, but eSports are forcing us to rethink traditional sports at a growing rate. If you’re new to the trend, or just want to get a better understanding of what eSports are and who’s playing them, keep reading as we break down the five most important things you should know about eSports.
What is esports?
Esports, electronic sports, is a field in which individuals and teams compete for top scores in a range of video games. Today’s most popular esports games include FIFA, League of Legends, Fortnite, Counter-Strike, and StarCraft. Games like Overwatch coordinate international teams and leagues that compete in nail-biting tournaments for awesome prizes.
Forget Super Bowl rings and shiny gold medals. Today’s eSports champions are scoring massive million-dollar prize pools as spectators from around the world watch them game.
Also known as broadcasters, these competitors aren’t just greasy teenagers penned up in a dark bedroom—they’re well-trained, driven game gurus who don’t miss a beat when they’re called on to play center stage in front of a jam-packed stadium that sold out almost as quickly as a Taylor Swift concert.
Like other organized sports, these players have sponsors, coaches, teams, and practice schedules. They train hard and create cutting-edge strategies. They suffer upsets and enjoy exhilarating wins.
In recent years, the esports industry has become more sophisticated as a professional field and more widespread across the globe than ever before.
Worldwide, it’s estimated that 557 million people will participate in esports by 2021. 500 of those fall into the category of highly-paid professionals. The world of professional gaming has expanded beyond individual players to include prominently sponsored teams, and top studios like Epic Games host annual tournaments with lucrative prizes on the table.
Plus, if your child loves video games, not only are there tremendous cognitive benefits to gaming, competitive gaming is just one of many ways kids can make money by pursuing their tech hobbies. If you’re looking for inspiration, some of the most successful professional gamers today are kids and teens.
Pretty awesome, right?
For those details and more, check out this list of fun, interesting facts and statistics about esports in 2020!
1.) By 2021, global esports gaming revenue will soar to $3.5 billion
The competitive gaming world is huge. And that means a lot of money changing hands among players, sponsors, and gaming companies.
Projections estimate the total market value of esports will nearly double from its 2016 figures. Asia continues to hold the biggest piece of the esports pie. This growth is likely due to skyrocketing participation, integration with Twitch and other streaming platforms, and the lure of jaw-dropping cash prizes.
Last year alone, 800 million hours of esports were streamed on Twitch, creating an incredible audience and fueling the growing industry.
2. ) Almost any game where players compete can be an eSports game
Unlike the NFL or MLB where athletes play a single sport with set rules, eSports athletes compete in a variety of game types. MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games like League of Legends and Dota 2, and FPS (first-person shooter) games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Call of Duty, and Halo are some of the most popular games to play professionally.
Yet almost any game where players compete can become an eSports game. Strategy games like StarCraft II and Hearthstone are also gamer favorites.
Yet not all eSports games are equally lucrative; each tournament is centered around a specific game (or games), drawing varying levels of viewers and prize pools. At The International 2015, players competed in Dota 2 for a prize pool of more than $18 million. That same year, teams competed at BlizzCon World Championships, playing in World of Warcraft Arena for a prize pool of $250,000.
3.) eSports players are a lot like traditional athletes
Sure, they’re not scoring on astro turf end zones or shooting hoops from shiny basketball courts, but eSports players are more like traditional athletes than you think. Like baseball players, they spend hours each day practicing their craft both on their own and as a team. Hockey players might watch footage from their opponent’s past games; eSports broadcasters study other teams’ strategies and formulate “plays” and methodologies to defeat them.
With the many tournaments now held all over the world (not to mention the demands of broadcasting online to score high-paying sponsorship deals), players often keep grueling schedules that require frequent travel.
In addition to training like professional athletes, pro gamers also face career-ending sports injuries. Some of the biggest names in eSports have retired over the last few years, blaming carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, trigger finger, and nerve-tingling neck pain. Reports show that these injuries are often overlooked and on the rise among eSports broadcasters.
4.) The US legally recognizes esports pros as professional athletes
You read that correctly. Top esports players are legally classified as professional athletes. And if you think about it, the amount of practice, skill, and, in some cases, teamwork necessary to compete in high-stakes gaming tournaments certainly warrants that elite status.
Recognition as professional athletes comes with all kinds of benefits, including special taxation and visa privileges.
5.) Fortnite and DOTA Championships cash prize pools top $30 million dollars
Popular games Fortnite and DOTA inspire intense competition and draw millions of viewers to their global events.
Due to massive popularity and crowdfunding, the prize money involved has topped the 1st place prizes for Wimbledon and other elite sporting events. In 2019, the Fortnite total cash prize pool was over $30 million, with 1st place prizes at $3 million and runner up prizes cashing in at $50,000.
The International DOTA Tournament boasts even more impressive numbers. 2019’s tournament prize pool clocked in at a whopping $30,003,794 thanks to crowdsourced funding, one of the driving forces behind these multimillion dollar top awards. With each year’s prize record topping the last, it’s thrilling to think about what 2021 will look like!
6.) Esports is so popular, Comcast is constructing a $50 million arena so fans can watch live!
Fusion Arena, first of its kind in the US, promises to be a game-changer in esports. Based in Philadelphia, the Fusion Arena will have space for 3,500 spectators of competitive gaming and other events. Construction is scheduled to complete by 2021.
7.) There is an eSports Hall of Fame
The fact that there is an Esports Hall of Fame should tell you a couple of things. One, that eSports is an activity worthy of a hall of fame, and two, there are some gamers who have been performing at a high level for long enough to warrant their induction.
Sure, this Hall of Fame may not yet be as big of an attraction as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, but everything needs to start somewhere!
The first inductees received their Hall of Fame honors in 2016, one a legend with the Quake franchise, and the other with Counter-Strike. Since then, four other players have been inducted, along with one other in the "Special Awards" category and another on the "Community" side of things.
In addition to honoring gamers themselves, there is a separate eSports Insider Hall of Fame, which awards "individuals who have made a difference in the eSports industry." In fact, three legends were just inducted in June 2019.
8.) Esports attracts high-profile celebrity investors
From legendary athletes like Steph Curry and Magic Johnson to musicians like Drake, investors have infused esports with $3.3 billion since 2013. Professional sports experts are also taking notice. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, have both expanded their holdings to include esports franchises.
9.) Esports has become a major field of academic study
If you find yourself or your child asking, can you major in esports in college, the answer is yes.
That’s right. Ten colleges and universities offer degree programs in the esports field, including big name campuses like UC Irvine, the University of Texas, and The Ohio State University. Still more universities offer esports extracurricular opportunities and competitive teams. These degree programs cover topics ranging from the business aspects of managing esports teams to strategic statistical analysis and more.
10.) The world’s most successful esports players take home serious cash
In a growing industry with a vast audience, it’s hardly surprising that top competitors bring home the big bucks. The world’s richest esports players have net worths well into the millions, and all signs point to still more opportunities to score major prizes in the future.
11.) Traditional sports stars are taking notice of eSports
While some people find it a stretch to refer to controller-wielding competitors as true “athletes,” even traditional sports players are paying attention to major league gaming. It's just one of the ways technology is changing sports.
Rick Fox, three-time NBA champion who played for the Lakers and Celtics, bought the eSports team Gravity at the end of 2015. Rodger Saffold, an offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams, owns the eSports team Rise Nation, which earned a spot at the Call of Duty Championship.
When asked about his ownership of the team, he said:
"...we started streaming our gameplay on the internet. Next thing you know, people are like, ‘Hey you should form your own team.’
We started playing around with names, and we got some of the graphic designers from the Rams to help me design the logo. We ended up picking up a team and then they went to the world championship (Call of Duty Championship). It was huge and they just took off."
Some of the biggest names in sports history are also joining in, with superstars like Shaquille O'Neal and Alex Rodriguez investing in eSports, and the NRG eSports team, specifically.
In addition to NFL, MLB, and NBA athletes and team owners heading up eSports teams, other influential people are also buying into the trend. According to the Los Angeles Times, “China’s richest man, Russia’s richest man, and the U.S.’s fourth-richest man” are all connected to an eSports team.
12.) Esports is an industry that needs talent in addition to gamers
Just like you immediately equate a professional sport with the players on the field, court, pitch, etc., there are many others employed behind the scenes who serve as key components required to make it all tick. Coaches, medical staff, announcers, other members of the media, and so many more.
eSports is no different, and thus needs talent in a variety of forms in order to make the industry everything that it is. From house managers to travel coordinators, to shoutcasters (play-by-play and color commentary), journalists, and more!
13.) Kids of all ages can compete (and make money!) through esports
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the youngest ever esports pro got his start at just years 6 old.
Many gamers may be surprised to learn that the record for the highest single-player tournament payout is held by a teenager! Last year, 17 year old Kyle Giersdorf won the Fortnite World Cup, taking home a cool $3 million dollar prize.
Kids of all ages can compete in esports for fun, to sharpen their skills, and even to make some money. If you’re looking for guidance, Common Sense Media has a great parental guide to help get started. It’s a great virtual hobby, and there’s no telling where kids’ journeys might lead!